Shanghai Steam an Anthology Edited by Ace Jordyn,Calvin D.Jim and Renee Bennett-A Review

shanghai s header

When I first heard about this book, I was scanning through Amazon Canada looking for a new Wuxia novel to read. The premise sounded really interesting and I added it into my ever growing booklist of book that I want to read. Skip to a few months later, Karen and I were in the Sentry Box (the worlds largest gaming store) here in our hometown of Calgary and we were browsing through their totally awesome fantasy book section, when I pulled out my handy dandy list and asked one of the proprietors if he had Shanghai Steam in stock. To my delight and once again to the awesomeness of Sentry Box’s selection, my book was in stock. With great anticipation and savouring it like a cup of really good tea (Karen makes the best tea to savour by the way “that’s the English for you” ) I took it home to read. It took a bit longer to read than I usually would have liked, (hence why the delays with our posts) but with every thing going on here at the Stranger’s bookshelf flat, it was a welcoming companion to ease my burden of the stresses of what was happening around us over the past month.

Artwork by James Ng

Artwork by James Ng

I have been into steampunk since it was introduced to the reading audience by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling with their debut collaboration The Difference Engine.Being that I am a huge William Gibson fan and Neuromancer is one of my all time favourite reads I was excited when The Difference Engine came out. I was there reading this genre before steampunk became a commonplace in Science Fiction/Fantasy Literature thinking wow this is definitely going to be a new world to explore in the near future like the way Neuromancer was for cyberpunk. And over the years I watched this genre grow, From playing the first GURPS steampunk settings in the early 90’s, to seeing Leviathan by Scott Westerfield, Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding  and Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, in print, and video games like BioShock Infinite and American McGee’s Alice series. But alas I am starting to find the genre as a whole starting to become too formulaic now, like how a lot of sword and sorcery novels are felling just like a rip off of Lord of the Rings and Conan the Barbarian. Steampunk needs new life breathed into it and that is what Shanghai Steam does.


For those of you who don’t know what steampunk is, let me give you a brief description of what it is. Think of the late 1800’s to early 1900’s (Queen Victoria’s time on the throne in England) where technology in the UK, USA and the western world was far more advanced than it was in reality. Technology like Robots that are powered by steam, Flying zeppelin like airships, and submarines right out of the pages of Jules Verne and H.G Wells. At the same time European colonialism was in full swing, with exploration of new lands and cultures and in steam punk literature even worlds like Mars. A lot of the fantasy and science fiction elements are borrowed from authors like Jules Verne, H.G Wells, Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelley,Sir Author Conan Doyle,Sax Rhomer and others from around that time period. They also borrowed elements from real life inventors in that time period like Thomas Edison and Nikoli Tesla ( which is actually believed to have created a death ray),magi like Alister Crowley and explorers like Sir Richard Francis Burton and Dr. David Livingstone and H M Stanley.

Night Patrol by James Ng

Night Patrol by James Ng

Over time though a few problems were starting to emerge throughout the steampunk genre.  Most readers, when reading through a lot of works of this kind like I have, find is that you get a very obscured westernized view of only a limited frame of time in these novels. You can only do so much writing of alternative history of Victorian England, and the building of the American West. Other Problems were also starting to arise,  Problems like, what it was really like for other classes, races and genders in that time period, which are also so rarely discussed. Remember this was the time of colonialism and the industrial revolution. People of color, women and even children had no rights whatever to speak of. Also one of the sad things that we seem to forget is that there were other cultures that were as advanced as western society was, but in a different context,( like China and Japan for instance), who really wanted to be left alone in their own way of livelihood and felt that the west had nothing to offer them. These countries were forced into trade agreements and such because of the goods westerners could not get enough of. Goods like silks, tea, and porcelain that were in such high demand westerners would pay top dollar for them. So trading companies like the East India Company which was basically ran by the English government introduced things like opium and forced tariffs in and around the harbours of these countries, which were thought to be primitive by the East India Company’s standards. And basically by drug trafficking and the use of gun boat diplomacy, these countries were forced into trade agreements in which the result was the loss of lands against their will. Now because of the western encroachment in these lands, uprisings had started to occur like the Boxer Rebellion in 1900′ to expel the foreigners and return to the way of life they once had. I find that the authors in Shanghai Steam address a lot of these conflicts which is a good sign that the times are a changing and we are getting wiser. I mean imagine the impact that it would have over all on science fiction, if the Chinese are actually portrayed more advanced in the steampunk realm then that our forefathers had lead us to believe. It opens up a whole load of possibilities, as well as dealing with such issues that plague this genre and science fiction and fantasy in general today. Issues like race,gender and equality, entitlement and privilege. These issues really should be addressed more, especially in this particular genre. And that is what Shanghai Steam does.

Crystal Herbalist by James Ng

Crystal Herbalist by James Ng

Here is a synopsis of what Shanghai Steam is about. I pulled it from the Chapters/ Indigo website to give you a better understanding of what this novel is really about. From ancient China to a future Mars, from the British Empire to the Old West, 19 authors show you worlds with alcohol fuelled dragons, philosophical automatons, and Qi-powered machines both wondrous and strange in tales of vengeance, paper lantern revolutions and flying monks. Shanghai Steam is a unique mashup of steampunk and the Chinese literary genre known as Wuxia (loosely translated as martial hero).

Imperial Sheriff by James Ng

Imperial Sheriff by James Ng

The cover of Shanghai Steam is adorned with a beautiful Cover Illustration by James Ng who’s Asian inspired steampunk inspired artwork is a sight to behold. I love his Imperial Airship ship picture so much that I want it as a wall poster.

Imperial Airship by James Ng

Imperial Airship by James Ng

I would also like to note that Shanghai Steam is up for the prestigious Aurora award on September 13, 2013. The Prix Aurora Awards are given out annually to honour the best Canadian science fiction and fantasy literary works, artwork, and fan activities from the previous year, and I hope they win.

From my own personal view point I really loved this book, it is such a slice of fresh air, mixing together two completely different genres, and reviving both of them at the same time, while also addressing some of the harsh realities of what was really happening during those times instead of white washing it. For instance story Moon Flame Woman by Laurel Anne Hall which is about a young Chinese woman dressed as a man who is helping build the railroad across Canada using chi to tunnel instead of dynamite (which many a Chinese lost their life to in real life by trying to tunnel through the Rockies for the sake of the CN Rail), or the story Fire in the sky by Ray Dean in which a paper lantern invasion is staged against the British Opium pushers who have taken over this port town with their airships and are destroying the towns way if life ( an analogy of what happened to Shanghai, Macau and Hong Kong in the 1800’s). Other stories like A Hero Faces the Celestial Empire;A Death by Fire is Avenged by Water by Julia A Rosenthal in which a classic hero from the Rivers and Lakes (Jianghu) takes on the almost impossible task of avenging a woman’s request to have her brother’s death avenged, reads just like Yu Hua’s classic Chinese short story Blood and Plum Blossoms.

The Immortal Empress by James Ng

The Immortal Empress by James Ng

A lot of what makes Shanghai Steam so good is it shows shows the beauty of China’s own industrial revolution, things like chi influenced dragons and a special ray gun powered by chi. {An interesting note of history, the Chinese are actually thought to have created one of the first computers in the world when Su Song created hydro-mechanical astronomical clock tower in medieval Kaifeng in (1020–1101 AD) well before Charles Babbage created his difference engine in the 1800’s}. Combined with the wuxia element where heroes use cunning and intelligence to fight against tyranny and oppression, even if it is a big train, Shanghai steam is in a class of it’s own.

Shanghai Steam includes works by: Camille Alexa, Shen Braun, Amanda Clark, Ray Dean, Tim Ford, Laurel Anne Hill, Minsoo Kang, William H. Keith, Crystal Koo, Frank Larnerd, Emily Mah, Derwin Mak, Brent Nichols, Frances Pauli, Jennifer Rahn, Tim Reynolds, Julia A. Rosenthal, Nick Tramdack, K. H. Vaughan.

Court Band by James Ng

Court Band by James Ng

Lastly what I found really interesting when I was reading Shanghai steam is that a few of the authors and editors originate from my hometown of Calgary Alberta. I love it when you get to read a novel by local talent.  I also had the privilege of tweeting editor Calvin D Jim and thanking him for such a wonderful anthology, plus I being a greedy bugger I was asking for more cool stories from them (Hey I really enjoyed the book, ). One one of the coolest things is that Calvin D Jim tweeted me back, and said he would be happy to oblige. I would like to say sir that you got a new fan and I am looking forward to reading your short story Mokushi in the Tomorrow anthology and your upcoming novel The Last Miko, and if you ever want to play a pen and paper RPG tweet me. 

So, If you are looking for truly inspiring Asian inspired steampunk that does not carry out all the tropes and appropriations that some of the other Asian inspired steampunk works that are out there. Also if you are looking for a read that goes beyond the norm of science fiction and fantasy while bringing together diversification and understanding and the blending of cultures than Shanghai Steam is for you.

Here is a few of the other books and RPG games that I mentioned above

the-difference-engine The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

leviathan2 Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

tsm_01_boneshaker  Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

retribution-falls-by-chris-wooding  Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

MammothSteampunk  The mammoth book of Steampunk

cover_lg2cover_lg  GURPS Steampunk Roleplaying game

Eberron_Camapign_GuideMAY091792 Ebberon Campaign setting for Dungeons and Dragons

Deadlands  Deadlands Roleplaying Game

334969  The Past and the Punishments by Yu Hua (Not Steampunk but sill a great read, The short wuxia story Blood and Plum Blossoms is in this collection)

The official Shanghai Steam website with news, posts, Interviews with the authors and links to Similar sites.

James Ng’s official website for his artwork Where most of the artwork for this post was obtained, Please check him out and order some prints because his artwork is totally awesome and I really want to support him.

Here is an interview from Kayelle Press with Calvin Jim with news about his new and upcoming stories.

I am Eric from The Strangers Bookshelf and I want to wish you Happy Questing


Posted on September 1, 2013, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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